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North Korea nuclear crisis

UN Security Council unanimously votes to cut fuel supplies to North Korea amid rising nuclear threat

Vote comes just over a month after the Security Council approved sanctions that were considered the strongest yet against Pyongyang

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 September, 2017, 1:35am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 September, 2017, 3:04pm

The UN Security Council unanimously passed a new resolution aimed at halting North Korea’s ability to produce nuclear weapons, a move that sets limits on exports of crude oil and fuel products to the reclusive state.

Prompted by North Korea’s most recent nuclear detonation, the Security Council took up discussion of the proposed resolution put forward by the US a little more than a month after the unanimous passage of sanctions that were considered to be the strongest yet against Pyongyang.

The latest resolution aims to cap North Korea’s imports of gasoline, diesel, heavy fuel oil and other refined fuel products at two million barrels annually, which would cut the amount from about 8.5 million barrels now.

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“Passage of this resolution is better than nothing, but it’s not going to impinge on [North Korea’s] weapons activity,” former US Ambassador to the UN Bill Richardson said in an interview with the South China Morning Post ahead of the vote.

“The North Koreans have shown to be very resilient in absorbing sanctions,” which won’t halt their weapons development unless the UN manages to completely cut off oil and fuel supply and freeze the government’s assets overseas, added Richardson, who visited North Korea eight times between 1992 and 2013.

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Monday’s move would cut the country’s imports of refined petroleum products by 55 per cent and bans the supply of natural gas and natural gas derivatives to ensure they aren’t used as substitutes, according to details released by the US delegation to the UN, led by Nikki Haley. Moreover, banning North Korea’s textile exports and remittances by North Korean workers overseas, the resolution would cut US$1.3 billion in revenues annually.

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“Oil is the lifeblood of North Korea’s effort to build and deliver a nuclear weapon. These are by far the strongest measures ever imposed on North Korea,” Haley said in the Security Council meeting. “They give us a much better chance to halt the regime’s ability to fuel and finance its nuclear and missile programmes.”

US demands for a complete oil embargo and a freeze on the assets of the country’s leader Kim Jong-un were removed to ensure passage, according to media reports ahead of the vote.

Previous UN sanctions on North Korea stopped short of controls on oil and fuel, mostly at the behest of China, owing to concerns that such moves might destabilise the country and leave Beijing with a refugee problem. China shares a 1,400-kilometre border with North Korea along the Yalu River.

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While the limits on fuel were something of a compromise, some experts see the ban on textile sales as a significant measure.

North Korea’s clothing exports would be the most valuable in dollar terms after overseas sales of coal and other minerals, Thomas Byrne, president of the New York-based Korea Society and former senior vice president at Moody’s Investors Service, said in an interview after the Security Council vote.

“When you look at North Korea’s economic structure, it’s one of the country’s few new industries,” Byrne said. “It brings in a significant amount of foreign exchange. This is as significant as the elimination of anthracite coal sales.”

“The US need a comprehensive diplomatic approach that includes both carrots and sticks,” David Cohen, former deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency said at a Georgetown University Law Center event in Washington. “And it will involve trade sticks,” he added referring to economic sanctions against North Korea.

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North Korea’s September 3 nuclear test was the country’s largest and prompted global outrage.

China’s President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Donald Trump jointly denounced that test last week as a “provocative and destabilising action”, and said Pyongyang’s current path is “dangerous to the world”.

The last resolution against North Korea, passed by the Security Council on August 5, prohibited UN member states from buying coal, iron ore and other key commodities from North Korea, a move meant to cut the country’s export revenue by US$1 billion annually, according to Council members.

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Monday’s vote followed weekend negotiations aimed at clinching support from Russia and China, which balked at measures the US wanted to impose. Beijing and Moscow have traditionally been the most reluctant Security Council members to implement new measures against North Korea.

“It’s called negotiation. That’s what we do here at the Security Council,” the UK’s ambassador to the UN Matthew Rycroft told reporters at UN headquarters when asked what elements were removed in the “watered down” version.

“The version on the table is strong, it is robust. It is a very significant set of additional sanctions on imports into North Korea and on exports out of North Korea and other measures as well. So that’s why we will be voting in favour of it.”

While expressing Beijing’s support for efforts to halt North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme, China’s UN Ambassador Liu Jieyi also repeated calls he’s made in several Security Council meetings on North Korea for the US to dismantle a missile defence system it has deployed in South Korea.

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“The deployment of THAAD severely undermines the regional strategic balance,” Liu said, referring to the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence system. “It undermines the strategic security interests of regional countries, China included. China strongly urges the relevant parties to halt the deployment and remove related equipment.”

China has consistently opposed the deployment of the THAAD system in South Korea, saying it would do little to deter the missile threat from North Korea while allowing the US military to use its radar to look deep into China’s territory and at its missile systems.

The US and South Korea have resisted such calls, arguing that THAAD is a defensive system only.

Comments by Ahn Ho-young, South Korea’s ambassador to the US in Washington reinforced that stance.

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“We should be doubling down and tripling down with pressure on North Korea through diplomatic, information and military ways to bring back North Korea back to meaningful negotiation table,” Ahn said in Washington shortly before the Security Council vote.

The last resolution against North Korea, passed by the Security Council on August 5, prohibited UN member states from buying coal, iron ore, and other key commodities from North Korea, a move meant to cut the country’s export revenue by US$1 billion annually, according to Council members.

The Security Council has already imposed seven sets of sanctions since North Korea’s first detonation of a nuclear device in October 2006, starting with an arms embargo as well as an asset freeze and travel ban on individuals involved in the country’s nuclear programme.

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Former UN Ambassador Richardson stressed that Monday’s vote won’t be the last move in efforts to stymie Pyongyang.

“Knowing the North Koreans as I do, they’re going to do a missile test any day now.,” Richardson said. “So it’s a temporary victory.”